John Zorn

Cartoon S&M

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Cartoon/S&M is a collection of Zorn's chamber works performed by, among others, no less than the Mondriaan Quartet. The set is structured conceptually, the first disc Cartoon being lighter and S&M darker. The opening track "Cat o' Nine Tails" has quotes from Raymond Scott alongside somber, brooding passages that touch upon both Shostakovich and Bartok, with humor the underlying temperament. "Carny" is stunning, as ideas flit by with the speed of sound; long, open-ended chords give way to single-note runs. "For Your Eyes Only" levels the playing field in modern chamber music. Tubas bleat as if in a college marching band just before the Schoenberg-esque strings leap in, as the piano tosses stride blues, Thelonious Monk, and Cecil Taylor in their midst. The first "Kol Nidre" is a mournful, tender string quartet. Long lines are played over shining drones, offering glimpses of Yiddish folk song and Jewish funeral music. Disc two is without doubt darker, but humor is tossed in to keep the works from becoming burdensome. The 13-part string quartet "The Dead Man" is definitive of Zorn's polysyllabic method of composition. New themes are introduced nearly at the speed of thought, actually pursued to a logical end and gleefully discarded as the next one enters. "Memento Mori" has its roots in serialism and Jewish folk song, but encounters Ornette Coleman and Morton Feldman. "Music for Children" is the strangest piece here, seemingly a series of hushed conversations between players. "Kol Nidre" makes its second appearance to close the set, this time for clarinet quartet. Though the notes are the same, the harmonics are darker, deeper drones, and the notion of folk song is even more pronounced and somber. This collection proves Zorn's astonishingly varied and sustaining contribution to late-century classical music. It should not only be owned, but studied, reflected upon for inspiration. Amazing.

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